Baxter on the Family: Directions for Wives
This is Part 2 of our series on Richard Baxter’s instructions for the Christian family.
It is important to realize, when reading Baxter and the Puritans, that there was no guarded language when speaking of how the Christian household ought to look like. They simply assumed the clear, biblical teaching of a husbandʼs authority in the family and a wifeʼs joyful submission. So then, at one level, Baxterʼs direction for women wouldnʼt sound too different than John Piperʼs or Wayne Grudemʼs.
However, Baxter, in a way that Puritans are known for, approaches the heart of the wife. What would cause a wife to rebel against the biblical mandate to follow the leadership of the husband? Baxter gives a few reasons:
1. Failure to believe Godʼs will is best. Godʼs design for the Christian family, which includes the structure of authority and submission, is best! God is wise and we, as sinners, need divine wisdom. He writes, “Who are you to assess Godʼs Word in a way different than his own qualifications.” What Baxter means is, we are to allow Godʼs Word to explain itself in its own terms. We must not explain away difficult, but clear, instruction. As Christians, we must trust Godʼs counsel for the home. Failure to trust Godʼs will can only bring turmoil and unrest.
2. Discontentment. There is something about the sinful heart that is always wanting something other than the place in which God has placed him or her. When something other than God is the desire of the heart, it begins to desire more than the portion granted. The sinful cravings of the heart are deceitful and can justify sin or can explain away divine instruction. Baxterʼs appeal to wives is to find your contentment and treasure in Christ and you will recognize the joy in resting in his purposes.
3. Distrust in the leadership of your husband. Following the leadership your husband is not first and foremost based upon his merits, but upon the design of Godʼs intentions. Baxter recognizes the failures of husbands, since he was one himself, and there is no biblical expectations for women to follow their husbands in sin or submit to abuse. Yet, many may see the husbandʼs imperfections as an opportunity to exchange roles, as if he has lost his chance to lead. Baxter encourages wives to put away their fears of following their husbands, for it is not in him that you place your trust, but in the Lord who has given you good and perfect instruction for your joy. Rebelling against Godʼs instruction for the home will never bring peace or contentment.
For Baxter, submitting to Godʼs will for the home, whether it be for men or for women, is fundamentally a heart issue. Baxter wrote in a day when feminism didnʼt exist as a movement. There were no books to argue for egalitarianism. No one was attempting to re-interpret Ephesians 5. Yet, he understood that men and women have always had sinful impulses to rebel against Godʼs instructions.